On July 21, 1919 At Comiskey Park, 18,000 fans were reveling while watching their first place team take on the New York Yankees in a scheduled doubleheader on a warm summer day on the Southside on July 21, 1919. The spectators would enjoy the fact that the Sox would twice during this day, come from behind in the late innings to sweep the Yanks 7-6 in the first game behind the pitching of Dickie Kerr who had come on in relief of starter, Lefty Williams, thanks to a 9th inning walk-off single from third baseman Buck Weaver, scoring Nemo Leibold from third base.
The fans would get some bonus baseball in the second game as the two teams were deadlocked at 4 going in to the bottom of the 10th inning. This time Shano Collins would be the hero with a carbon copy of Bucky’s first game heroics, a walk-off single that would plate Ray Schalk and the White Sox would record their third straight victory against New York in Walk-off fashion, stretching their lead from 4 1/2 games to 7 1/2 by the time the twin-bill had concluded. Kerr, again in relief, would be credited with the win, his second in one day. By the time the Yankees had left town, they had fallen to third place and never challenged the powerhouse White Sox again for the rest of the season.
During the second game, somewhere around the 4th inning, fans and players alike would witness something far more distressing then the White Sox trailing the Yankees early in the game. A Goodyear Airship was making its maiden voyage. The Wingfoot Express as it was called, had just passed over Comiskey Park around 4 p.m. enroute to the Windy City Amusement Park located on 63rd Street, south of the ballpark.
Certain sections of the ballpark, especially the upper deck on the third base line and the left field grandstands could watch as the blimp floated effortlessly southbound. The mood at Comiskey Park would take a turn for the worse when occupants of the stadium witnessed the 150’ airship, just after the pilot would feel a violent shaking from the fuselage, burst in to flames and began a downward plunge of over 1,200 feet. There were 16 souls on board as the airship plunged in to the earth, crashing in to the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank. Although some on board attempted to jump to safety with parachutes as the dirigible was becoming engulfed in flames, only the pilot and one of the mechanics would survive the crash.
By a scary coincidence, another of the on-board mechanics would carry the same nickname “Buck” and the same last name “Weaver” as the White Sox third baseman, Buck Weaver who could see the chaotic developments from his position on the field. Carl Weaver would try to jump before impact but would die when his body crashed through the skylight of the bank as bank employees would watch in horror while just moments earlier they had been going about their usual routine at their desks. The employees would then see the blimp following right behind the body of the deceased mechanic with a downpour of flames and showering glass as it fell all around and on the workers.
In the nightmarish panic, 27 bank employees would be injured but by a miracle, no one on the ground would die, as for those aboard the blimp, 14 souls would perish. The Chicago Tribune would report the horror of the day in the next mornings edition:
“Nearly everyone at Comiskey Park witnessed the fate of the dirigible. The instant it caught fire, there was a scream from the fans. The game was stopped as all watched the catastrophe. It seemed that the entire thing burned up in about a half minute. After that, there wasn’t much enjoyment felt over the (two) ballgames”.
Instead of being able to celebrate the exciting come from behind victories, White Sox fans would exit Comiskey Park in almost stunned silence and still mortified over what they had witnessed.
This incident not only had a profound affect on White Sox fans and those at the scene of the fiery devastation, but it would also cause sweeping changes in air safety. Chicago’s future Mayor, Anton Cermak who was an alderman at the time, would lead a crusade to create new laws that would prohibit flights over populous areas. Dirigibles in the U.S. would be required to utilize only helium, a less flammable fuel, replacing the highly ignitable hydrogen currently in use.
Just 12 years later, the horror of the German dirigible, the Hindenburg crashing in New Jersey (still using hydrogen gas) would bring back horrible memories for those in Chicago that were at Comiskey Park and at the crash site on that fateful day.